Manitoulin Islands Transit looks to expand services to include Gore Bay area

CHECKING THE ROUTE—The United Manitoulin Islands Transit vehicle travelled for the first time along its initial Mindemoya to Manitowaning route this past Monday, July 20, seen here pausing at an intersection in Sheguiandah. Transit co-operative board members gathered in Little Current at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre for a small soft launch ceremony of coffee and cookies and said a larger public open house will soon follow. photo by Alicia McCutcheon

M’CHIGEENG – While it’s been a long, tough road to get bus services started on Manitoulin Island, the president of United Manitoulin Islands Transit (UMIT) says progress is being made towards having a flourishing world class transportation system on the Island. Guy Dumas, UMIT board president, disclosed at the co-operative’s first annual general meeting this past Saturday that services provided are anticipated to be expanded in the near future.

“I would like to thank very much all the current members of the board who have sat at the table. It’s been tough,” said Mr. Dumas. “There has been disappointment, heartbreak and frustration. But there is much opportunity here and ways to enhance the quality of life for local residents and citizens. It’s so compelling.” 

“My eye is on the big picture, a flourishing Manitoulin Island with a world class transit system. That’s the pillar we’re edging toward,” said Mr. Dumas. “I’m compelled by the vision of a flourishing Manitoulin Island.”

Lorne Kostik noted, “so far the service hasn’t gotten to areas like Gore Bay.”

Mr. Dumas noted, “in the first phase of the consultants’ report (before the UMIT transportation system was launched), the report showed that 68 percent of the Island population is in this region (Central to east Manitoulin and served by the current route). That’s the reason the service is based here.” 

However, “the second phase we are planning will be similar (with a second bus in operation) to include Evansville, Gore Bay and Kagawong with the target set for February-March, with the intention for areas like Sheshegwaning First Nation to be part of a demand-responsive transit study to make this service more effective.”

“I hope to have everything in place by December,” Mr. Dumas said of the transit study. 

UMIT is also hoping to launch a vehicle connector service that would link people from other communities, notably Wiikwemkoong, to the bus route so they can access the communities the main bus serves. This expansion will be a partnership in development with Blaise Transportation in Montreal. They have created a software platform that uses artificial intelligence to help travel agencies run on-demand bus services.

Mr. Dumas explained to the Recorder, “the DRT is an artificial intelligence software platform. Every driver we have driving for us will have an iPad that will show where a ride request is coming from, and the shortest route. So for instance, if I’m in Wiiky and a call comes in from Kaboni my iPad will direct me there. We are targeting seniors for the DRT training, those 60 years of age and over. We would like to see 25 drivers and 55 drivers for the rest of the Island be part of this.”

“We are hoping to start this in Wiikwemkoong but I will have to first engage the elected representatives on this,” said Mr. Dumas. He said if Wiiky rejects the proposal, UMIT will then approach the Northeast Town.

Then once the three month pilot DRT project has been completed, things such as operating costs will be finalized and, working with Blaise Transportation, a strategic plan would be finalized. 

Mr. Dumas said UMIT is also exploring the possibility of providing parcel delivery. “By June 2021 we will have further developed a token system to support local businesses and entrepreneurs and provide incentives to our riders,” he said. “This will combine demand response transit with fixed route and rider connecting services that will be directed to bring people to the route where their point of origin is not currently within our current service area.”

UMIT is a transit co-operative that is owned by communities and stakeholders. Individuals can buy membership in the service, and businesses may find it beneficial because it allows more people to reach their storefronts or access their services.

The route at this time takes in M’Chigeeng to Little Current and includes all communities within the eastern part of the Island including Aundeck Omni Kaning, Mindemoya, Sheguiandah and Manitowaning.

Please see further coverage of the UMIT annual general meeting in a future edition of the Recorder.